While the value of making eye contact with your audience is one of the most important things you can do in public speaking, it doesn’t mean that you should begin this process after you begin your delivery. It starts before you open your mouth to speak and is part of the confident posture you assume in your walk.
Audiences are quick to recognize nervousness. If you approach them with slumped shoulders and eyes staring at the floor or darting here and there, your uncontrolled adrenaline rush will be a dead giveaway that you would rather be somewhere else. Now admittedly, that may be the case but why put yourself at a disadvantage before you even begin?
With shoulders back, head up and a smile on your face, try breathing as you walk, preferably by means of your diaphragm. This type of supported respiration is the most positive means of controlling nervousness in any form of public speaking because it eliminates the toxins in your blood. Shallow or lazy breathing, which is typical of 99% of the population, actually increases those toxins which unfortunately increases your nervousness.
1. Approach your audience, making eye contact with them. While acknowledging those who have gone out of their way to hear you, scan the room and make note of your smilers. (Every audience has them!)
2. Once you reach the lectern, do not begin immediately. Adjust your note cards or the remote for your overhead presentation and then again, scan the room, still smiling, Truly look at your audience. If there is applause, by all means acknowledge the applause.
3. Before you open your mouth to speak, breathe. Then as you begin your speech or presentation – the opening of which you have memorized – make solid eye contact with those in your audience just as you would were you having a conversation in your living room.
Exuding confidence in your approach to the lectern or the head of the boardroom table is not that difficult to achieve if you believe in yourself. If you have prepared your material in advance and have practiced it out loud on several occasions, there is no reason not to believe that you will do the best job that you can do. And, making eye contact with your audience should be part of your objective.
Remember, public speaking is the art of communicating with an audience. By making eye contact before and during your presentation, you are then able to acknowledge their reaction or their response to you and that is just as important as your delivery is to them.